The Wrong Stuff: Wolfpack slide continues with loss to Wright State

NC State looked disjoined on both ends of the court on the way to an 84-70 loss in its final nonconference game of the season

Wright State's Grant Basile muscles NC State defender Ebenezer Dowouna as he looks to score during Tuesday's game at PNC Arena. (Ethan Hyman / The News & Observer via AP)

RALEIGH — It seems like an eternity ago, but it’s only been 10 days since the NC State basketball team stood on the verge of upsetting what was then the top-ranked team in the country.

The Wolfpack has been a different team since letting a 10-point lead slip away in the final five-plus minutes of regulation against Purdue on Dec. 12.

And not for the better.

First came a nine-point loss to Richmond on a neutral court in Charlotte. Then Tuesday, coach Kevin Keatts’ team took another step backward by getting manhandled on its own home court by a mid-major opponent with a losing record.

Instead of heading into the bulk of its ACC schedule with some momentum, State suddenly finds itself with more questions than answers following an ugly 80-74 loss to Wright State at PNC Arena in its final nonconference game of the season.

“For whatever reason, we’ve got five guys that have been leading us and everybody didn’t play well tonight,” Keatts said. “When that happens, I’ve got to figure out as a coach how to get a win. I’m a little disappointed that we weren’t able to put it together.

“One of the things I told the guys in the locker room, we’ve got to go home, get away from this, look (ourselves) in the mirror as we will as a coaching staff and figure out how we get better.”

The question is, where to start?

State (7-5) didn’t shoot well, going 29 of 76 (38.2%) overall and just 7 of 26 (26.9%) from 3-point range. It didn’t share the ball well, recording only nine assists on those 29 field goals. And for a majority of the game, freshman Terquavion Smith — who finished with a career-high 27 points — was the only Wolfpack player that seemed capable of putting the ball in the basket.

On the other end of the court, State had no answer for Wright State’s inside duo of Grant Basile (23 points, 14 rebounds) and A.J. Braun (13 points, eight rebounds). The duo combined to account for the bulk of their team’s 46 points in the paint.

Wright State (4-7) also hit 7 of 18 3-pointers on its way to shooting a sizzling 52.5% for the game.

“We gave up 46 points in the paint. That’s never a good formula to win,” Keatts said. “I just wasn’t happy with the way we played today.”

The only time the Wolfpack showed any signs of being a cohesive unit came during the final 6½ minutes of the first half.

Down by eight at 27-19, State got back into contention by turning up the pressure on the defensive end and speeding up the tempo on both ends of the court. Jericole Hellems punctuated a late 8-0 run with a 3-pointer from the top of the circle that seemed to right the ship by giving the Wolfpack a 38-37 lead going into the second half.

But whatever energy State gained was gone by the time it returned to the court after halftime.

After the teams traded baskets to start the period, Wright State scored on nine of its next 10 possessions and the Wolfpack went cold, allowing the Raiders to build a lead they would never relinquish.

“I just really feel like we’ve got to start playing together more,” Smith said. “They played harder than us. We really didn’t play well tonight. … Everybody locking in, playing together. That’s really the message.”

Other than Smith, no one on the Wolfpack was anywhere close to being locked in.

Hellems scored 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting in the first half but disappeared over the final 20 minutes by contributing only a single basket. Dereon Seabron, who leads the ACC with seven double-doubles and is averaging better than 19 points per game, managed only 10 while making just four of his 12 field goal attempts.

Cam Hayes was 2 of 12. Casey Morsell was 1 of 6. 

The loss ended a 29-game home winning streak against nonconference competition and was only the second in 38 games against non-ACC opponents during Keatts’ tenure.

One of the few bright spots was the play of raw freshman big man Ernest Ross, who had four points, five rebounds and a blocked shot, and played with a lot of energy over the final 10 minutes.

“When you look at Seabron, who’s been great for us … he didn’t have it tonight,” Keatts said. “He’s not going to have a double-double every night. We’ve got to figure out how someone else can step up.”

It’s a problem the Wolfpack has only a week to solve before heading to Miami on Dec. 29.

“We played a No. 1 Purdue team down to the wire, had some good things happen in the Richmond game. Hopefully this is a one-off,” Keatts said. “Hopefully this is a game, getting ready to go home for Christmas, young team not mentally focused, locked in enough. I don’t know that, but I hope that’s the case.”